Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo for Yemeni Subjected to Long-Term Sleep Deprivation in Prison’s Early Years


Yemeni prisoner Mohammad Abu Ghanim, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last Tuesday, Mohammad Rajah Sadiq Abu Ghanim (aka Mohammed Ghanim), a Yemeni born in 1975, became the 38th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo. These involve representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release by the high-level inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, or were not facing trials. Just ten men are in this latter category.

Those eligible for the PRBs were 41 men described as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, which also, however, acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, that is was not evidence, but unsubstantiated claims made by prisoners subjected to torture, abuse or bribery (with better living conditions), or that they were regarded as having dangerously anti-American attitudes (despite the fact that their appalling treatment may have inspired such sentiments).

23 others had been recommended for trial by the task force, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed when appeal court judges overturned some of the handful of convictions secured in the military commission trial system, pointing out that the war crimes for which the men had been convicted had actually been invented by Congress.

Mohammad Abu Ghanim is one of the men initially described as “too dangerous to release,” and will be hoping to join the 20 others in that category who have been recommended for release by PRBs. Two men originally recommended for prosecution have also been recommended for release, while just seven men have so far had their ongoing imprisonment upheld. This is a 76% success rate for the prisoners, and a rather damning indictment of the scaremongering involved in the task force describing men as “too dangerous to release,” when that has now been disproved on 20 separate occasions.

In a profile of Mohammad Ghanim in September 2010, I noted, “In Guantánamo, Ghanim was accused of having ‘participated in jihad activities’ in Bosnia and of taking part in the Yemeni civil war, and of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. In response, he has apparently stated that he fought only with the Taliban.”

The bin Laden bodyguard allegation is unreliable, in part because, even though it was made by a number of high-profile prisoners, they were all subjected to torture, and in part because, although Ghanim is one of 30 men seized in December 2001 crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan, who were all described as bin Laden bodyguards and known as “the Dirty Thirty,” most of them were young Yemenis, who had not been in Afghanistan for long, and would not have been trusted with such important positions.

I also described the torture and abuse to which Ghanim had been subjected in Guantánamo:

In a report from a former prisoner published by Cageprisoners, it was stated that Ghanim was subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation in Guantánamo, as part of what was euphemistically termed “the frequent flier program,” and was also denied medical treatment: “Every two hours he would get moved from cell to cell, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes cell to cell, sometimes block to block, over a period of eight months. He was deprived of sleep because of this and he was also deprived of medical attention. He had lost a lot of weight. He had a painful medical problem, haemorrhoids, and that treatment was refused unless he cooperated. He said he would cooperate and had an operation. However, the operation was not performed correctly and he still had problems. He would not cooperate. [H]e was [then] put in Romeo Block where the prisoners would be made to stand naked. It was then left to the discretion of the interrogators whether a prisoner was allowed clothes or not.”

The US authorities’ unclassified summary for Ghanim’s PRB repeats the claims — first made publicly available in 2011 by WikiLeaks, when the formerly classified military files on the prisoners were released, after they were passed to WikiLeaks by Pfc. Bradley Manning — that he “is an experienced militant who probably acted as a guard for Usama Bin Ladin in Afghanistan,” adding, “He forged relationships with future al-Qa’ida members while fighting for jihadist causes during the 1990s and probably participated in plots against government and Western interests in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He also associated with several USS Cole plotters and probably left Yemen for Afghanistan around the time of the bombing in October 2000, although we have no evidence that he had a role in the operation.”

Some of these allegations — about his connections with terrorists in Yemen — seem more troubling, although the claim that he was “fighting for jihadist causes during the 1990s” is clearly exaggerated. As the 1990s began, Ghanim was 15 years old, and there seems to be no basis for suggesting that he did anything more than visit Bosnia in 1994, when he was 19, leaving the year after when the Dayton Peace Accords were signed.

As well as repeating the bin Laden bodyguard allegation, the authorities also noted that, in Afghanistan, “he fought for the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, worked for an al-Qa’ida-associated charity, [and] possibly trained to become an al-Qa’ida instructor,” although it is not possible to discern how much truth there is to these additional allegations.

In Guantánamo, the authorities stated, he “has committed an average number of infractions compared to other detainees,” but “has improved his behavior since mid-2013, probably because he wanted to improve his chances for transfer.” The authorities also noted, “The majority of his infractions have been non-violent and relatively minor; however, he has also participated in mass disturbances and non-violent demonstrations in response to quality of life issues or perceived injustices committed by the guard force.”

It was also noted that Ghanim “has demonstrated varying levels of cooperation during his interviews, and his cooperation has improved when he felt that the debriefer has treated him with respect,” which is surely a vindication of rapport-building rather than abuse as a way to secure reliable information.

The authorities also stated, “He has been reluctant to discuss other detainees, except to report on their impending hunger strikes or possible uprisings” — which is generally a sign of a strong-willed prisoner, who has managed not to get drawn into making false allegations against his fellow prisoners — and added that he “appears to have some influence among other detainees and has served as an intermediary between some detainees, which may have helped raise his status in prison.”

In conclusion, the summary noted that Ghanim “has avoided explicitly aligning himself with violent extremism,” attributing this to him “probably judging that this may improve his chances for transfer.” It was also that he “has expressed hatred towards the United States on occasion,” although it was acknowledged — for the first time, I think — that this was “probably out of frustration with his detention and debriefers’ line of questioning.”

It was also noted that a former prisoner with whom he has corresponded “is suspected of reengaging in terrorism,” and that “several of his family members and childhood friends associate with AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] members who could facilitate [his] introduction to the group or other extremist activity if he chose to reengage.” On the former point, I find it unfair that correspondence with a former prisoner “suspected of reengaging in terrorism” is regarded as a sign of sympathy with anti-US sentiment, when it is unclear that any such sympathy exists. In addition, the latter point is largely irrelevant, as, if he were to be approved for release, he would not be repatriated. This is because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate any Yemenis, and third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them new homes.

Below I’m posting the opening statement made by Ghanem’s personal representatives (military personnel appointed to help them prepare for their PRBs), in which they explained that he “fosters no ill-will toward the United States and is no longer a threat to America,” and also referred to his compliant behaviour at Guantánamo. No opening statement was provided by an attorney, and it remains to be seen if Ghanim himself not only demonstrated compliance at Guantánamo, but also remorse for his previous actions, which seems very much to be what the boards — whose closest analogy is a parole board — seem to be looking out for in particular.

Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 17 May 2016
Mohammad Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim, ISN 044
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. As Mohammad Rajah Sadiq Abu Ghanim, ISN 044, Personal Representatives, we would like to thank the Board for allowing us the opportunity to present Mohammad’s case and reveal how he is no longer a continuing significant threat to the United States.

From day one, Mohammad has actively participated in every meeting that we scheduled with him. He was always eager to provide any information that was asked of him, as well as provide any clarity to any situation that was not fathomable to us. During our meetings, Mohammad has expressed his desire to return home and to reunite with his family. He is aware that he may not be going back to Yemen, but he is willing to settle wherever the board determines for him. He is enthusiastically looking forward to the opportunity to have a wife and children of his own someday.

Since his detention in Guantanamo, Mohammad has been respectful to the guard force, and he has diligently tried to keep his fellow detainees from harming themselves and each other. He has been a compliant detainee and has taken advantage of the many opportunities presented to him to learn about American culture. He likes to read books written by American authors as well as watching several American television shows. He has become a person who is considerate and tolerant of others. Additionally, his time here has given him the opportunity to meet Americans and be exposed to American values and culture. This has given him an appreciation of the good things that America and Americans can accomplish.

Mohammad fosters no ill-will toward the United States and is no longer a threat to America; he is ready to answer any questions the Board may have for him at this time.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the Periodic Review Board last week for Mohammad Abu Ghanim, a Yemeni who was one of 46 prisoners described as “too dangerous to release” by President Obama’s ‪‎Guantanamo‬ Review Task Force back in 2010, and was subjected to long-term sleep deprivation in his early years at Guantanamo, moved from cell to cell every few hours for a period of eight months. The authorities, very inappropriately, called it “the frequent flier program.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Hanan Baghdadi wrote:

    how sick ‘frequent flier program’, are these psychos any different than the ones who raped in Abu Ghraib, no !

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Hanan. It was a truly horrible program.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Rose Ann Bellotti liked the comment above,she wrote:

    “Like” is not exactly the word I want to use, here.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s a frequent problem for those of us who share necessary information about unpleasant things, isn’t it, Rose?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    The Gitmo Clock is counting down how many days President Obama has left to close Guantanamo – 240 days today. Please visit, like, share and tweet it:

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Please also check out the definitive Periodic Review Board list I put together for the Close Guantanamo website:

  8. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy!

    I am going to take the liberty of repeating my supposition as to why the US conflacted al Qaida and al Wafa; why they conflated al Qaida, and the small rival group who ran the Khaldan training camp.

    I think US intelligence officials routinely ignored Osama bin Laden’s obvious weaknesses. Osama bin Laden seems to have gone hat in hand to a pool of rich Saudi donors.

    When I was in University I spent a tax season sitting in a booth preparing income tax returns. I learned something about law-abiding regular citizen donors, that I am sure applies to OBL’s rich clandestine donors.
    People who donate to one legitimate charity often donate to multiple charities.

    So, one of OBL’s weaknesses was that his donors were fickle. Some of them donated funds to rival causes. I’ve concluded that some of OBL’s donors, who were prepared to donate funds to run al Qaida’s training camps were just as happy donating funds to Abu Zubaydah’s small organization that ran the Khaldan camp.

    The US has never published any evidence that al Wafa was ever anything other than the legitimate humanitarian charity, everyone who was part of it always said it was. What if al Wafa dug wells, ran orphages, schools, hospitals? I think some of Osama bin Laden’s donors also wanted to fund orphanages, etc.

    US intelligence officials tracked the funds transfers from OBL’s donors. They chose not to consider the possibility that OBL’s donors could be fickle. So every cause they funded became an al Qaida affiliate.

    I think over estimates of al Qaida’s influence, based on this conflation, made us less safe.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, arcticredriver, and thanks as ever for your thoughts. You make some very interesting points.
    So much of the story of Guantanamo now feels like lost history, in which no one is interested, that it’s easy to forget how shocking it is to look at the organizations accused of being connected to terrorism, and to realize that it was a hydra-headed fantasy, in which the object seemed to be to find a reason to regard everyone and everything as connected to terrorism – hence the obsession with al-Wafa, the legitimate charities that were shut down, and the slander directed at Jamaat al-Tablighi, to name just a few examples that spring to mind.

  10. Thomas says...

    I had sleep deprivation today because I normally sleep all morning but had a meeting with someone. Although I was able to sleep all afternoon I am still tired from it. So torture by sleep deprivation must be so much worse then that. Torture just gets false confessions.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Thomas. Yes, it is difficult to imagine the effect on one’s mental health of being woken and moved every few hours for weeks or even months, which is certainly torture – and also far more likely than not to produce false confessions.

  12. Nancy says...

    Sleep deprivation is extreme cruelty/torture. I say this as someone subjected to it in my home via high-tech “silent sound” weapons, extreme torture since 2010. I believe the low level frequencies were started about 1993. is an informative website. My YouTube videos can be found online….The Church Committee 3 series. My Twitter is buckeye_south
    I am one of the non-consenting humans in an experimentation program….perhaps a Special Access Program, highly classified to prevent accountability for the harm caused to innocent civilians.
    Torture is not OK. Sleep deprivation is not OK. Experimentation without
    consent is not OK.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Nancy.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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